After the Korean War, Kim Il-sung introduced the personal philosophy of Juche, or self-reliance, which became a guiding light for North Korea's development. Kim Il-sung's son, Kim Jong-il, is now head of state, but decades of this rigid state-controlled system have led to stagnation and a leadership dependent on the cult of personality.
Juche became the official state ideology when the country adopted a new constitution in 1972. The main issue that brought North Korea under close observation from the international community is their nuclear program. In 2002, Pyongyang decided to reactivate a nuclear reactor and to expel international inspectors which damaged relations with its neighbor countries as well as alerted nuclear superpowers.
Since then, intensive diplomatic efforts have aimed to restrain North Korea nuclear ambitions. However, in 2006, North Korea said it had successfully tested a nuclear weapon, spreading alarm throughout the region once again. After years of diplomatic talks, a deal was reached in 2007 under which Pyongyang agreed to shut down its main nuclear reactor in return for aid and diplomatic concessions. But further negotiations stalled as North Korea accused its negotiating partners of failing to fulfill agreed obligations.
Rising tensions in region
Tensions between North Korea and the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia increased steadily again from 2008 onwards. In 2009 North Korea walked out of international talks aimed at ending its nuclear activities. To make the situation worse, the following month the country carried out its second ever underground nuclear test and announced that it no longer considered itself bound by the terms of the 1953 truce that ended the war between the two Koreas. In 2009, following the recent events relationship between North and South Korea increased in intensity.
North Korea had deployed missiles since, ended its former agreements with South Korea and threatened South Korea and the United States not to interfere with a satellite launch it had planned. The countries still share the world's most heavily fortified border. The hostilities in the recent years mostly arose because North Korea in the process of government transition. Current leader Kim Jong Il is believed to transfer power and authority to his son Kim Jong Un in the near future.
Crisis reached a new high in spring 2010, when South Korea accused North Korea of being responsible for sinking the warship Cheonan, killing 46 seamen on board. North Korean government denied the claims, and in turn severed all ties with South Korea. The main issue of latest tensions in November 2010 is a disputed maritime border between the two countries. A sharp escalation of hostilities arose when North and South Korea fired at each other for about an hour on an island that sits just off a disputed border.
The skirmish raised fears of war between the two rival nations, once again spreading fear of a major conflict through the entire region. China's Foreign Ministry is working to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula, holding a series of diplomatic talks with Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang.